Halloween escapades of the “Porch Sitters”

By Dwight Williamson

Dwight WilliamsonWith Halloween just around the corner, I am reminded of times past when danger lurked on nearly every roadway in Logan County during this time of year. Thank goodness, everybody now seems to have their cell phones and other gadgets to keep themselves occupied, and perhaps that helps to keep people out of trouble during these cool autumn nights. Long before cell phones and computers came into existence, though, there were those who took advantage of the Halloween spirit in some not so flattering ways.

Take for instance, the guys more commonly known as the “Porch Sitters”. In nearly every hollow in Logan County—and the Lord knows we’ve got plenty of them—there were those usually young men and some women who, just like the “Porch Sitters, found ways to become downright—well, let’s just say, precarious. Now, I can’t begin to tell you when it all started, but I suspect it was sometime after the horse and buggy days, and when most of the county’s citizens could afford automobiles. While I am most certainly not endorsing the following stories for future generations to partake in, I must admit that those days, or should I say nights, were certainly exciting, yet dangerous—and illegal.

Usually, it started about a week before Halloween when the true ghosts and goblins, whose poor souls usually just enjoyed the bathing moonlight that reflected off the No. 16 company store showroom windows, suddenly became villainous. Maybe it was out of boredom; or perhaps it was for the thrills and laughs, but suddenly, the “Porch Sitters” and others became the diabolical “Verdunville Villains”. The ring leader, as I recall during my porch sitting days, was Teddy Hale. He masterminded many of our dastardly deeds, and he especially loved blocking the road that served as the only way in and out of Mud Fork. He always seemed to come up with a bunch of old automobile tires that we neatly stacked across the road several feet high. Along with brush and other burning materials, the fire was ignited by gasoline, and the skies suddenly were filled with dark smoke and ashes.

Most people knew better than to travel late evenings during this time of year, but I guess there were those who simply had to do so. Anyway, the police would soon be on the scene with their spotlights ever searching the nearby hills for the outlaws who had committed the crime. Occasionally, the state troopers would spot one of us and the chase would be on. With adrenaline pumping and knowing every nook and cranny of all the hills, creeks, and ditch lines in the area, no one ever got caught, but there were some close calls. Some of the braver, or perhaps I should say “more stupid” individuals, would yell at the police from the hillsides, trying to entice them into a chase. Frankly, it’s a wonder that somebody didn’t get shot. I do know there were a few times when shots rang out.

Sometimes filling balloons with water and then tossing them from a cliff onto the windshield of an oncoming vehicle would make for an interesting night. Most drivers did not find our antics amusing and oftentimes there were some choice words expressed as we slithered through the underbrush to prepare for another victim.

One of the more fun things to do was to take an old purse, or even sometimes a man’s wallet, and set one of them in the middle of the road. Attached to the purse or wallet would be a fishing line or string that could be jerked about the same time the person bent over to retrieve what they hoped would turn out to contain money. The driver, who usually had parked his or her vehicle off the roadway, was not a very happy person at that point; especially with all the heckling they received from out of the darkness. Again, choice words were conveyed by the poor “suckers” who most definitely were angrily embarrassed. Like always, nobody ever got caught.

There was the old rolling of the hub cap trick and then there was egg throwing which would lead to paint peeling from a vehicle if not cleaned off quickly enough. But one prank that even I did not appreciate was one in which I’ve never known who perpetrated. A fishing line would be tied across an alley from fence to fence and about six inches from the ground. I don’t know who enjoyed watching excited youngsters tripping and spilling their bags of candy, but let me assure you that I was not one of them.

Of course, most of these pranks were dangerous, not only to the pranksters and the trick-or-treaters, but also to the drivers. Accidents could have been caused and people could have been injured. One incident I recall was when the Porch Sitters got word of a monstrous fire located up the road at what we simply called “the head of the creek.” Word was that grown men and women with chain saws had cut large tree across the road and set them afire. I do not recall how we all got up the road that dark evening, but I sure do remember the trip back.

We arrived on the scene only to see headlights and shadowy adult figures on the other side of the blazing fire. We were about 25 yards away from reaching the road block when a man’s voice bellowed out something about his mother and getting her to a hospital. Seconds later, the booming sounds of gunfire of different calibers followed by angry words rang out loudly. There were about 10 of the Porch Sitters who scattered in different directions. I later found out four or five of these guys got hit by buckshot.

On my own turf, I would not have been too worried. However, I did not know the woods very well on upper Mud Fork. So, I chose to lie back even though I was faster than most of the fellows. In the pitch dark of the hills, running through briar thickets with gunshots in the background, a fellow who shared my name (Dwight) Baisden yelled out, “I know these hills; follow me.” In what seemed like only seconds later, I heard a terrible scream. “Ikie”, as most people called him, had run into a barbed wire fence neck-high and was not only bleeding, but also had choked himself. He survived, and years later went to work for the Federal government somewhere out west. He now is deceased. As for myself, I survived the night by staying in the hills and off the main road for the two-miles or more until I reached the confines of the company store porch where I rested. Wearily, I shortly later crossed the railroad tracks and headed for bed just hoping the rest of the guys got home safely, which they did; bruised, battered, and some still with buck shot in their hides, but OK.

Looking back, I realize the roads were in bad shape enough without us setting fire to them. I also realize that people could have been hurt, and that the inability of an ambulance or other emergency vehicle getting through should have been foremost on our minds. Understand, however, that most of us were kids, basically good kids. Unlike today, you never had to worry about any of us breaking into your home or stealing anything. In fact, back then most people did not even lock their front doors at nighttime.

For the most part, the Porch Sitters were a great bunch of guys; that is until the one stretch of the year when they became the Villains. Many of the Porch Sitters have either died, or at least settled down—or have we?

Drive carefully.

Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.

*Published with the author’s permission.

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The end the Hatfield political dominance

By Dwight Williamson

Dwight Williamson, Logan County MagistrateThe years from 1920 through 1932 should be of great historical significance to Logan Countians and the names of Chafin and Hatfield figure prominently during this time period when political control of the county meant everything to its leaders.

The Prohibition era, which lasted from 1920 until 1933, caused more problems than it solved and created a situation in which Logan County’s inhabitants were looked upon by outsiders as lawless and murderous. For many outsiders, it appeared that the mountain people of Logan County feared neither God nor the Federal government, as Prohibition agents trying to foil the efforts of moonshiners were being shot and killed on a regular basis.

King coal had grown from the early 1900’s as coal camp communities sprang up in nearly every hollow of the county. Coal companies not only owned the communities, but just about everyone else, including police, school teachers, politicians and even the local pastors, who were also on the company’s payroll. Coal miners, many of whom had come into these hills seeking a better life for their families, hailed from Italy, Hungary, Poland, Russia and other European countries. African-Americans, more commonly called Negroes at that time, came from mostly the Carolinas and Alabama to work in the mines. Few native born Logan Countians actually worked in the coal mines until the 1930’s; the exception being some very young boys used in the early mining days.

Don Chafin and his hundreds of deputies were on the payroll of the Logan County Coal Operators Association. Chafin was paid to keep the miners from organizing in a union, so it was only natural that he, along with his army of 2,000 men, chose to fight the approaching miners in the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921. His efforts made him a hero in the eyes of Logan business people, who thought their little city might have been destroyed by the marching miners.

At the time, a sheriff could not serve consecutive terms in office. Chafin, however, had accumulated great wealth and owned much of Logan County, particularly within the city limits of Logan. A short stint in an Atlanta prison because of testimony by his former saloon business ally, Tennis Chafin, caused him much embarrassment. However, before Chafin’s appeals were denied and no pardon received from President Calvin Coolidge, and before leaving for prison in October of 1925, he fought desperately against the election of Tennis Hatfield for sheriff in the November election of 1924. And, even though all other offices were won handily by Republicans, Chafin’s candidate, Emmett Scaggs, narrowly won over Hatfield.

Hatfield contested the election, and 16 months later, the State Supreme Court heard testimony about Chafin and some of his men’s threats and intimidations at certain precincts on Election Day. The court threw out Mud Fork and Striker precincts for election violations, thus awarding Hatfield the job. According to Hatfield, the appeals process cost him $60,000. The sheriff’s salary at the time was about $3,500 annually. However, Hatfield was counting on the coal operators’ contributions and his control of certain gambling establishments and illegal liquor sales as future income.

Though his term was abbreviated, Tennis arranged for his brother, Joe, to win the job for the next four years, while he prepared to follow him in 1932. What neither he nor his brother counted on was the sudden emergence of Howard B. Lee into the county. Lee, who was the state’s Attorney General, had been ordered into the county to prosecute the case of Enoch Scaggs, who had killed Logan Police Chief Roy Knotts in December of 1930. Logan Judge Naaman Jackson had met with the Governor and Lee in regards to the case; Jackson pleading for help for a county he saw as lawless. Judge Jackson did not feel that justice could be served because of Logan deputies intimidating jurors and witnesses in the case—as they had in many others. Governor William Conley sent 16 state policemen to Logan to protect a special jury bused in from Monroe County. At the time, there were only a few state troopers located in the various state counties.

In the trial of Enoch Scaggs, it became apparent that Scaggs, who owned slot machines in the county and had been a deputy with a nasty reputation, murdered Chief Knotts because Knotts had agreed to “clean up” the city by ridding it of gambling machines, most of which were owned by Tennis Hatfield, while his brother was sheriff. As the “hit-man,” Scaggs had been convinced that the jury would be rigged and that he would be found not guilty. However, no one had counted on a special prosecutor, or jury. Scaggs was found guilty of 2nd degree murder and was sentenced by Judge Jackson to the maximum of 18 years in prison.

By this time, Lee, who had spent considerable time in Logan preparing for the trial, had identified many problems of the county; one being that nearly everyone was allowed to carry a weapon, particularly felons and ex-convicts. Describing Logan as a “Gunman’s Paradise,” Lee sought for and received from the legislature a bill that restricted the carrying of deadly weapons by anyone but dully authorized police officers.

As it turned out, the Depression year of 1932 would stand out as one of the most important years ever in the history of Logan County, for different reasons. Not only would Tennis Hatfield lose in his efforts to regain the sheriff’s office, but it would end the Hatfield political dominance as even former Governor and then Sen. Henry Hatfield was defeated. In addition, a new era was ushered in with the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the election of every Democratic candidate in Logan County. Also of relevance in 1932 was the gruesome murder of Mamie Thurman, the wife of Logan Police Chief Jack Thurman. The following is the surprising connection of Mamie Thurman to the political times of the sons of Devil “Anse” Hatfield.

Prior to the murder of Police Chief Roy Knotts, the President of the Logan City Commission was local banker Harry Robertson. At the time, there was no Mayor or City Council. Instead, a City Manager and the Commission formed the city’s government. In 1931, the Commission was deadlocked as to whether or not to keep the City Manager, W.M. Healy. The Logan Banner reported that Robertson would not break the deadlock to keep Healy unless he agreed to fire patrolman O.E. Jenkins, and hire Jack Thurman. The Banner described Jenkins as a very good policeman who was being “sacrificed at the altar for Thurman’s man.” “President Robertson has fought, bled and torn his pants for Thurman,” wrote one disgruntled reporter.

In reporting that Thurman was chosen over Jenkins, the newspaper account relayed that it was done so “although nobody can point to a single partisan or discredible act on the part of Jenkins during his term of service.” The newspaper further reported that Thurman sent word to The Banner that it had published enough scandal against him in regard to the job. The story said, “It was an important message because it may reveal that there is one more officer in the land that feels he has been called on from “On High” to regulate the press.” Fact is, Harry was seeing Thurman’s wife, who had worked with him at the old Guyan Valley Bank, and Thurman’s hiring would guarantee the rent on the apartment the couple rented from Robertson.

It should be noted that before Clarence Stephenson’s murder case appeal was turned down by the State Supreme Court in 1933, following his conviction of killing Mamie in 1932, her husband (Jack) and Harry Robertson—Mamie’s admitted lover and landlord—would neither hold their city positions because a new form of mayoral and council government was put into place with Thurman and Robertson let go.

Between 1924 and 1932 the Hatfield’s and former sheriff Don Chafin only agreed on two things: (1.) coal miners did not need a union and (2.) state policemen were not needed or wanted in Logan County. There was much that went on between the opposing factions. After one deputy, Amos Sullivan, was shot and another, Henry Napier, arrested for trying to destroy the Coal Valley News in Boone County, which published the Guyan Valley News that had been critical of the Hatfield’s—accusing them of running a slot machine racket in Logan County—Sullivan wound up telling a grand jury that Tennis Hatfield paid him $500 to destroy the newspaper plant, which just happened to be owned by Don Chafin. Prior to turning himself into the authorities, Sullivan had been arrested in Kentucky for the charge and a Logan deputy and assistant prosecuting attorney Ira Hager illegally brought him to Logan where he supposedly escaped. The Logan Bar Association then unsuccessfully tried to impeach Hager.

During this time Chafin was also under fire, accused of going to Charleston to use his influence in trying to rid West Virginia of state troopers, several of whom were in trouble for being bought off by the Hatfield clan in their efforts to maintain gambling machines and illegal liquor in the area. During a probe of the state police department initiated by Chafin in 1931, Boone county Senator M.T. Miller told the investigative committee that Chafin “was the man who had inaugurated the “thug system” in Logan County and that “now he comes here to this legislature and wants to get rid of the state police.” Chafin would later be arrested at his office for possession of liquor as it was widely suspected that Chafin was behind the investigation of state policemen who were paid by the Hatfield’s.

In a Senate investigation in Charleston, there was testimony by a former deputy, Mack Lilly, of a party at the home of Tennis Hatfield in which several state policemen, Ira Hager and others were drunk on the very night Joe Hatfield’s deputies arrested Don Chafin for possessing liquor in downtown Logan.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Howard Lee was applying the pressure to Sheriff Joe Hatfield. Lee and Governor Conley told Hatfield that he would be impeached and indicted for various illegal activities if he did not follow rules set forth by Lee. Hatfield discharged 14 deputies who had been paid by the coal companies and agreed to re-hire others that were improperly dismissed. The Charleston Gazette reported that Lee had made Logan “a safe place to live in.” “Lee has quietly been applying pressure to wipe out the conditions he encountered here when engaged in the prosecution of Enoch Scaggs,” the Gazette reported.

Another Gazette story said that Lee reported that “conditions in the famous subdivision of the state are greatly improved.” Slot machines, according to Lee, had been shipped out of state or destroyed. Gambling parlors had been closed and “speakeasies” had shut their doors. Lee would sometime later say that Joe Hatfield turned out “to be a very good sheriff.”

Tennis, along with his sidekick, Ira Hager, entered the political realm of 1932 by easily winning their primary nominations in May. C.C. Chambers, who four years later would defeat Judge Naaman Jackson for Circuit Judge, and then serve 32 years as Logan’s only judge, lost in his Democratic Primary bid for State Senate; it would be the only election he would ever lose. Elba Hatfield, the son of Cap Hatfield, who had died a few years earlier, also would lose in his re-election bid for Justice of the Peace. Hatfield, however, would file a libel suit for $100,000 against Chafin’s Guyan Valley News for reporting that Hatfield was involved in the 1921 raid of a Sharples coal camp during the Battle of Blair Mountain. Hatfield declared that he had never even crossed Blair Mountain in his life. Ira P. Hager also lost in his bid for the Senate.

Meanwhile, the wily Don Chafin was making the headlines again state wide. At a huge Republican rally in Huntington during the ’32 election, Walter Hallanan told the crowd that if Democrat H.G. Kump was elected governor “Don Chafin would be running things in West Virginia.” He declared that the former sheriff “is not now running things in Logan County and will not be permitted to run things in West Virginia.” The national Republican committeeman called Chafin a “discredited Logan County citizen” and said he would take on Chafin’s bet of up to $25,000 that Kump would be elected Governor. It would be a bet that the committeeman would soon regret.

“This same Logan County gentleman, Don Chafin, is indefensibly lined with the terrorism which prevailed in that county in the 1920’s when laboring men were denied their constitutional rights and everything was resorted to from assassinations to skullduggery,” Hallanan declared.

1932 was not a good year for the Hatfield’s, of which there were four Hatfield sheriffs then serving in southern West Virginia, and numerous Hatfield or family related deputies throughout southern West Virginia and even in Gallipolis, Ohio. All the Hatfield’s, including Sen Henry Hatfield, were defeated in the Democratic landslide that saw every county in West Virginia go Democratic. Ironically, Howard B. Lee, a Republican, who had brought normalcy to Logan, also was defeated. Lee, the author of several books, including “Bloodletting in Appalachia,” is noted for his efforts to eliminate government corruption. He died at the age of 105 at a Florida nursing home in 1985.

Though Elba and Tennis Hatfield wanted to challenge the 1932 election outcome, neither candidate had the finances to take their cases forward—particularly after a Democratic controlled County Court ruled against them in their charges of numerous irregularities in nine precincts, including Mud Fork and Striker, the two precincts that originally got thrown out when Hatfield was elected the first time in 1924.

A bitter divorce from his wife Sadie, who had brought forth nine children to Tennis, saw the determined mother take her divorce case all the way to the Supreme Court, after which she declared that she had forged Don Chafin’s name to several documents which helped send him to prison. Sadie said that Tennis and Joe Hatfield had forced her to forge Chafin’s name to the documents.

Gone was Tennis’ famous father, Devil Anse, his mother, Levisa, his two murdered brothers, Troy and Elias, older brother Cap, his wife and children, and now—with no political power—Tennyson Samuel Hatfield may have become desperate. According to his grandson, the late Stephen Hatfield, Tennis Hatfield burned down the old Hatfield home place in early January of 1933, just about four months after 10,000 people showed up there for a Hatfield reunion. “Daddy always said grandpa burned the house down because he owed so much money. Liquor and women was his downfall, is what daddy always said,” Stephen told this writer about a year before he died. Stephen’s father was Tennis’s son, Jack Hatfield, one of the few in the Hatfield clan that remained on Main Island Creek until his death.

The January 13, 1933 edition of The Logan Banner reported that “Tennis Hatfield late Tuesday evening saw the last of what was once the large and beautiful Hatfield homestead crumble in ashes. Fire of unknown origin, but thought to have started near the old mud chimney in the center of the house, completely destroyed the building, and its costly furnishings, besides a rare collection of priceless relics of the Hatfield family,” the writer reported. Tennis was the only Hatfield child born at the Island Creek home place, which was built by his father and older brother, Cap, in the year of 1890.

The newspaper declared the loss at $15,000, of which Tennis said $1,400 was the value of a radio set that was inside the structure. Hatfield said the home was insured for $10,000. It was said that a “splendid” view of the home place could be seen from the Hatfield Cemetery that overlooked the valley. It is there that Tennis and his brother, Joe, are buried close to their parents. Tennis, whose life resembled that of a “shooting star” that burned brilliantly, but quickly, died of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 63 on August 12, 1953. At the time of his death, he was living in Logan with his sister, Rose Browning.

In a 1942 interview, Tennis was the proprietor of a beer joint called “The Silver Moon.” Located just a few yards from where the family home once stood, it was written that Tennis felt at ease with a beer in one hand a nickel for the jukebox in the other. “There’s no harm in selling beer,” said Tennis. “What’s more, there’s no harm in drinking it either, in reason.”

Joe Hatfield died in 1963 at the age of 83. His faithful wife, Grace, is buried alongside him at the family cemetery. None of their immediate family lives in Logan County. The Logan Republican Executive Committee in 1933 ousted Joe as Chairman of the GOP when he refused to resign voluntarily. It is said that Joe never delved in politics again.

Chester “Cush” Chambers, the most renowned judge ever in Logan County, and who is a story unto himself, bought two grave plots at Logan Memorial Park at McConnell, where he possibly could have been buried near Mamie Thurman, but sold the plots when the cemetery was abandoned. He died September 30, 1973 at the age of 82 and is buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Pecks Mill.

C.C. Chambers, and Don Chafin, like the many Hatfield’s, who left their mark of political strife on Logan County, played influential and key roles in the history of the county, for both good and bad purposes.

Don Chafin, no doubt satisfied with the election results of 1932, moved to Huntington where he made his home following the Democratic landslide. He sold much of his property in Logan and visited often. His home on Main Street still stands today— just a minute’s walk from where the garage apartment of Jack and Mamie Thurman once stood.

The colorful Chafin, once declared the “King” of Logan County, died August 9, 1954 in Huntington at the age of 67 as one of the wealthiest men in West Virginia.

Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.

*Published with the author’s permission and our special thanks.

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A stringent look into the history of Logan County

By Dwight Williamson

Dwight Williamson, Logan County MagistrateA stringent look into the history of Logan County will reveal that from 1924 until 1932 two of Devil Anse Hatfield’s sons pretty much ruled the county, but it should be pointed out that the “dynamic duo” really was just following up on the practices of their predecessor, Sheriff Don Chafin, who previously had been declared as “King” of Logan County.

Although most people know of Chafin’s defiant stand against the marching coal miners at Blair Mountain, it should be realized as to how one man could ascertain so much power. The Chafin name had been prominent in Logan County long before Don Chafin became the youngest person ever to serve as Logan County Assessor in 1908 at the age of twenty-one. His father was elected sheriff of the county in 1894 when Don was just seven years old. For all of Don’s life, Chafin family members or their business cronies had occupied most important public positions in Logan county. Accordingly, Don Chafin would wind up spending most of his adult life serving in public office and, —along with some wise investments—he became filthy rich before moving from Logan County in 1934.

In 1912, when the coal industry was beginning to boom and unionization was spreading in many parts of the nation, Don Chafin ran for sheriff of Logan County promising to rid the county of the hated Baldwin-Felts mine guards who were hired by coal companies to make certain no unions could be formed in the Logan coal fields and to evict families from coal camp homes. Chafin was elected, and kept his promise, but then set into motion a plan whereby the coal companies paid Chafin for special deputies, whose job it was to do exactly what the Baldwin-Felts thugs had done— keep the miners from organizing or joining a union.

His brother-in-law, Frank Hurst, became sheriff after that, while Chafin was elected County Clerk and served four years. In 1920 Chafin was elected again as sheriff and the Blair Mountain Battle followed. All the while, Chafin was collecting from a half cent to a penny for each ton of coal produced in the county. Deputies were paid from this fund and Chafin pocketed his part. By 1921, Chafin told a senate investigating committee that his net worth was about $350,000.

Over the years, Chafin, and especially the Hatfield’s, had been able to make money by gaining protection for their illegal liquor operations during the Prohibition era, while hundreds of other illegal competitors were being arrested almost on a daily basis. Devil Anse Hatfield and his family had always been a political force even before the killing of his brother, Ellison, on that fateful Election Day at Blackberry Creek, Kentucky in 1882. Devil Anse’s wife, Levisa, was, in fact, a Chafin, so the Hatfield’s and Don Chafin were part of the same family. These mutual ties, and the fact that both men favored alcohol, led to Tennis, Devil Anse’s youngest son, and Don becoming business partners in what was known as the “Blue Goose” Dance Hall at Barnabus near Omar.

When Tennis Hatfield was convicted and sentenced for prohibition violations regarding the Blue Goose, he probably was expecting Chafin to use his political influences to keep him from confinement. When that didn’t’ happen, Hatfield decided to testify against Chafin in Federal Court and Chafin was tried and in 1925 was sentenced to an Atlanta prison for two years. Granted a pardon by the Georgia Governor after just 10 months, Chafin returned to find that his former deputy, Tennis Hatfield, and his brother, Joe, had taken over the political reins of running Logan County and that set the stage for a local Democrat-Republican power battle.

Described by The Logan Banner as “an object of concern to tourists,” The Blue Goose saloon mysteriously burned in January of 1929. Two Logan deputies loyal to the Hatfield’s, George and John Hooker, occupied the residential portion of the former saloon. The newspaper account said it was unknown whether there was insurance carried on the structure.

Murders, maiming’s and alcohol related crimes had been happening for many years in Logan County to the point where the jail was filled to the brim, and the county, in the midst of the Great Depression, was struggling to pay its bills. Suicides were almost as common in the county as was a coal mine injury or fatality. Sexual diseases also were rampant as prostitution was widespread, particularly among the various hotel ownerships surrounding the town of Logan. In addition, gambling was considered almost common place.

Naaman Jackson, who was named President of the First National Bank of Logan after the Guyan Valley Bank failed, was also Circuit Judge in December of 1930 when Enoch Scaggs walked into the Smokehouse restaurant in Logan and fired five bullets into the body of newly named Logan Police Chief Roy Knotts, who was said to be unarmed. Knotts accepted the position following the resignation of Logan Police Chief Lon Browning after city officials announced they wanted the city “cleaned up” in regard to illegal slot machines, liquor and prostitution. Browning resigned saying, “Gentlemen, I am not yet ready to die.”

Judge Jackson decided he had to take action and in January of 1931 requested a meeting with Governor William G. Conley and Attorney General Howard B. Lee at the governor’s office. Jackson told the men that Logan had been troubled with lawlessness since 1913 and that “most of it had been traceable to the sheriff’s office.” Jackson said a fair trial in the Scaggs murder case would be impossible because deputies would lie and intimidate potential witnesses just as he had suspected to have happened in many other cases.

Governor Conley agreed to send Attorney General Lee to Logan to prosecute the murder case and ordered at least 16 state troopers to come with him to protect a special jury impaneled from Monroe County. While Lee was in Logan preparing for the trial, he became appalled at the lawlessness he saw going on in Logan, especially the number of murders and other crimes that were being committed because nearly everyone carried a firearm, including convicted felons. Lee focused on a conviction for Scaggs, but set his long range sites on the then Sheriff Joe Hatfield and his 150 special deputies that were paid for by the coal companies.

With over 200 slot machines known to be in the county, and at least 75 of them in the crowded town of Logan, Sheriff Joe Hatfield, along with his brother, Tennis, was known to own them all. However, with more and more state police being brought into the county, it took payoffs by the Hatfield’s to secure their illegal earnings. It was brought out during a special investigation of the state police that a planned raid on the Devil Anse Hatfield property, which is where Tennis lived, had been intended, but Hatfield was warned ahead of time. In just a few years, the old Hatfield home place, just like the Blue Goose saloon, would burn to the ground while Tennis was the tenant. Today, the site near the Hatfield Cemetery remains vacant, although there are rumors of the home place being reconstructed.

In February of 1931, the prosecution dismissed charges against Don Chafin, whose offices in the Guyan Valley Bank building were previously raided by sheriff’s deputies and Chafin charged with being in possession of a gallon of liquor. The same night, the Democratic headquarters in Logan also was raided. Chafin had purchased the Guyan and Valley Drug Stores in 1923 and The Logan Banner at the time described the Guyan store as “the largest single drug company in the state.”

All of this action was taking place while Attorney General Lee was staying at the Pioneer Hotel in Logan preparing for trial, and it only served as fuel to ignite the determination of Lee to “right” the many wrongs of the ruthless county leaders.

During the Scaggs murder trial, surprising testimony came from former Logan Chief Deputy, Mack Lilly, who said that former sheriff Tennis Hatfield and local businessman Dallas Morrison owned the slot machines in the county. Lilly further testified that Hatfield tried to squeeze Morrison out of the business, as well as Scaggs, who supposedly owned machines in Logan. Several local store owners testified that they had slot machines that were owned by Scaggs.

Lilly said that he had been fired as a deputy because he opposed the illegal slot machines. Lilly added that Tennis Hatfield told him one day, “I’m the big boss in this county and I’m going to run slot machines.”

The newspaper account described many witnesses taking the stand, several saying that Scaggs shot in self-defense, but the damning evidence came from Dr. S.B. Lawson, who said Knotts’ last words at the hospital were that he was standing at the magazine rack when Scaggs came up to him and said, “Haven’t we been friends”? —and began shooting.

State police officer Tom Barton testified that Knotts told him, “Tom, I’m done for. Don’t know why Scaggs shot, but I didn’t have a chance. Several of his gang were there and in on the plot.”

Defense witnesses who testified for Scaggs admitted under cross examination that they had spent time in prison for bootlegging liquor for both Tennis and Joe Hatfield. Coleman Hatfield, police judge for Logan, told of how fines were imposed and collected from slot machine operators. He said he was unaware of Scaggs owning any machines, only Tennis.

With the assistance of Wyoming County Judge R.D. Bailey, for whom the present day dam at Justice is named, Lee got a guilty verdict from the jury. Judge Jackson sentenced Scaggs to the maximum of 18 years prison. It was a verdict that would never had happened had it not been for the special prosecutor.

With this high profile case out of the way and justice served, Lee would soon see to it that the Hatfield’s, as well as Don Chafin, were stripped of their “absolute power.”

Today, some 85 years later, plans are in the making to finally honor Roy Knotts, who was killed in the line of duty. Knotts, also a former state trooper, will in May have his name graced upon the wall of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Logan Police Chief E.K. Harper, a former state policeman, himself, has submitted the proper paperwork that will allow Knotts to be named to the group of over 20,000 officers in the U.S. who have died in the line of duty dating back to the first known death of a policeman in 1791.

Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.

*Published with the author’s permission and our special thanks.

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1957 Logan High School

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Finding Princess Aracoma

By Dwight Williamson

Dwight Williamson, Logan County MagistrateAt one time or another, most Logan Countians have walked right by a piece of history that was placed in downtown Logan to forever honor perhaps the county’s most historical figure—Princess Aracoma. The memorial, which stands on the northeast corner of the Logan County courthouse across the street from McCormick’s Department store, was placed there in 1936 by a local organization that no longer even exists in the county. Ironically, the department store also began that same year as a leased 20 feet by 40 feet storefront on the corner of Washington and Stratton streets; the locally owned family business now encompasses the entire block.

The Daughters of the American Revolution, which is a women’s organization founded in 1890 for the purposes of promoting history, preservation and education, as well as patriotism, disappeared in Logan County at an undisclosed date, but did exist as late as the 1960’s. Local women of that organization left a lasting mark in tribute of the famous Indian leader who was buried in downtown Logan following her death in 1780. The memorial, which resembles a tombstone, was placed at a specific location that actually has some unique history of its own.

According to old Logan Banner newspaper accounts, in 1915 during the growing period of the town of Logan, an extraordinary grave was uncovered at the 100 block of Stratton Street in Logan. The grave was an unusual eight feet deep and contained the skeletal remains of a female Indian who had buckhorn beads around her neck. Other items found at the gravesite led the construction workers and the rest of the townspeople to believe it to be the final resting place of the Indian princess, who fought and died after her settlement was ambushed at what is currently the site of Logan Senior High School. Since all six of Aracoma’s children died from the plaque in 1776, it is highly likely that those offspring were earlier buried close by.

Old newspaper accounts from various time periods consistently relate the uncovering of what must have been a large burial ground for the local Indian tribe. In fact, it would be suffice to say that nearly all of downtown Logan—ironically named after an Indian chief, and once named after her (Aracoma)—has been built over top of Indian remains. Even the courthouse site itself was once a burial ground.

In a 1920’s Logan Banner story concerning the first brick courthouse constructed in Logan in 1870, it told of the uncovering of Indian bones during the building of the two story structure that replaced the wooden courthouse which was burned in 1864 by Union forces during the Civil War. Stories regarding the building of the Aracoma Hotel (1916) also related the finding of Indian skeletal remains. At the time, there were no regulations in regard to construction at cemeteries, especially an Indian cemetery. However, in 2011 during the beginning stages of the construction of the State Building where the Pioneer Hotel once stood, more human bones were found and construction work was held up for numerous weeks, while archaeologists uncovered remains that later were determined to belong to native Indians.

The Princess Aracoma Memorial was unveiled October 22, 1936 at the courthouse site, and in reporting this event, the Logan Banner added some history which needs retold. According to the report, placement of the marker in recognition of Aracoma brought back many memories for some local residents, including the County Clerk at the time, J. Green McNeely. The clerk said the site of the memorial was once the location of a well that was dug in 1920 by W.F. Farley, a former County Court member.

According to McNeely, the well was dug to provide cooler drinking water than that found in the courthouse fountains. The well didn’t live up to expectations, Farley said, “and the pump was never used extensively because a vein of salt was struck when the well was dug.”

There have been six courthouses built during Logan’s history. The first courthouse was a four room structure located where the Pebbles store operates today. All other courthouses have stood where today’s courthouse is now located. Following the burning of the wooden courthouse during the Civil War, a red brick courthouse lasted until 1904 when the first stone structure was built. A large fire that started on Main Street across from the courthouse in 1912 destroyed that courthouse and a magnificent stone building was constructed in its place until 1964 when the present day courthouse was built following the election of President John F. Kennedy, who previously had campaigned from the former courthouse’s steps.

In the 1936 newspaper account concerning the Aracoma Memorial, McNeely spoke about the 1912 fire. The coldest winter in the history of the county was the setting, according to McNeely. “That was the time of the “big freeze” and the fire plugs were frozen so solid that no water could be had to put out the blaze,” McNeely was quoted as saying. ‘The river was frozen from bank to bank and snow was knee deep in the streets that year.”

Over the years, the surroundings of the courthouse have changed dramatically. There are stories about an old elm tree that stood for over 60 years next to one of the courthouses, while nearer the entrance to the courthouse was an old locust tree, which was said to be the site of a least one hanging; that of accused murder, Charlie Williams, who was taken from the jail by a mob of indignant citizens. Not long after the hanging, the old locust died.

Also, no longer present at the courthouse is the World War I Doughboy Memorial which was moved to Midelburg Island, where it still stands today in honor of all Logan County members of the military services, who died in the line of duty.

So it is, that time changes everything. Once the most important location for all of its citizens as a gathering place, the Logan County Courthouse now no longer even features benches for citizens to sit upon. While it may be the only courthouse in the state which does not have some sort of outside seating arrangements, Loganites can take heed to the fact that it likely is also the only one of its kind statewide to be built over an Indian burial site.

And—thanks to a group of caring women—it also features an 80-year-old memorial to an Indian Princess, who played a very interesting role in the history of the area.

Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.

*Published with the author’s permission and our special thanks.

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Logan High Students from Cherry Tree

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This is a photo collection of Logan High School students from Cherry Tree, White’s Addition and Fisher Bottom.  Anyone wishing to submit a photo, please send it to the admin at loganwv.us@gmail.com. Logan High Students from Cherry Tree, White’s Addition … Continue reading

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Monumental efforts gave us our ‘Doughboy’

By Dwight Williamson

Originally placed at the Logan Courthouse in 1928, the Doughboy monument was moved to Midelburg Island in 1964.

Doughboy Monument, Logan, WV

World War I was titled as a “World War” for good reason, as it was indeed a war involving many nations, costing millions of lives and included many West Virginians who were quick to join the American forces in fighting the Germans for the first time. Of course, it would not be the last time Americans would take up arms against German forces, as the rise of Adolph Hitler would prove to ensure that more death and destruction would follow.

For those soldiers who had actually fought in such horrific battles as the Battle of Verdun, France, or in the Argonne Forest battle during the First World War, many never returned to their homes, but for those that did return, they never forgot their fellow soldiers, many of whom died on the battlefields in far off places— thousands of lonely miles from their friends and family. Such was true for many Logan Countians. Perhaps that is why the communities of Verdunville and Argonne, both Mud Fork localities, were named for the two important WWI battles in France. So significant were these two battles in the war that Island Creek Coal Company chose to name Verdunville for that battle even though no Americans actually fought in it. The 1916 Verdun battle is described as “the greatest and lengthiest in world history,” with over 700,000 casualties (dead, wounded and missing).

The Battle of the Argonne Forest, which was fought for 47 days from September 26, 1918, until the end of the war and the Armistice signing of November 11, 1918, was the largest military offensive in United States history, involving 1.2 million American soldiers. The small coal camp called Argonne is located just below and across from what used to be the No. 28 coal mine tipple of Island Creek Coal Company on Mud Fork. Marcum Trucking is now located at that site. Logan County has always supplied more than its share of men and women in the various military engagements that this country has endured, including even the Civil War. In addition to spilling their blood in battles around the world, the county’s people have supplied the coal the nation required to sustain the making of the war materials by steel mills and ironworks throughout the nation, especially during World Wars I and II. So, one can only imagine the excitement in Logan County when the unveiling of an awe-inspiring monument was revealed at the Logan Courthouse November 11, 1928 to honor Logan’s fallen soldiers.

In the November 9, 1928 edition of The Logan Banner, the writer said that the unveiling of the monument would be conducted on the 10th anniversary of the Armistice, more commonly known today as Veteran’s Day. The story relayed that the American Legion would be in charge of the services with the Boy Scouts and several others assisting. The Boy Scouts, of which there were hundreds in the county back then, were to conduct the flag raising ceremonies.

A November 2nd edition of The Banner described the monument: “Seventeen thousand pounds of Vermont granite will surmount the concrete base of the monument now being erected in the Court House yard. Atop the granite blocks will be placed a seven-foot statue representing an American doughboy carrying a riffle and a bomb poised for throwing.”

The story said the monument would be 19 feet high, according to Pete Minotti, local contractor, who The Banner described as “taking a leading part in providing a suitable memorial for Logan County’s heroic dead.” Minotti, like so many Logan Countians of that time period, was an immigrant, who had moved to Logan to work. Unlike most others, he was not a coal miner, but was a skilled contractor and built several of the town’s concrete and brick businesses. Minotti was responsible for the construction of the county’s first bank known as the Guyan Valley Bank, which was often referred to as the “old stone bank.” The bank took up the entire block where the current Logan Bank and Trust building is now located across from the courthouse. The talented mason also is credited for the building of the historic courthouse at Madison in Boone County.

Hundreds of people surrounded the courthouse on the historic day of the unveiling of the monument, which was to be called the Pete Minnotti memorial. Nowadays, most people simply refer to it as the “Doughboy.” The name “Doughboy” was the popular name for a WWI foot soldier during and after the war. The inscription on the plaque of the monument, which also features an American Legion Shield, reads: “To the memory of all men of Logan County, West Virginia who made the supreme sacrifice in the World War.”

It also lists the names of the men killed in action, those who died of wounds, as well as the names of men who died of diseases contracted in what was then called “The Great War.” In that war there were 4,332,000 allied forces who died and 13,595,502 wounded and missing. At the time of the celebration of the statue in Logan, no one could anticipate the other wars that were to follow in later years, or how the monument would later stand guard over memorials bearing the numerous names of other Loganites who went to various wars to help preserve the American way of life.

When the former old courthouse was being torn down in 1963 prior to the current structure being opened in 1964, the Doughboy monument was moved to Midelburg Island where it proudly stands today as a reminder of the sacrifices that have been made. The bronze structure presents a picturesque welcome to those visitors to the Island, whether for various sporting events, or otherwise. Along with a colorful football field and well-kept facilities and ballfields around the centerpiece of Logan Senior High School, the entire area presents a good image for Logan County visitors. However, it has not always been that way.

By 1983, uncaring vandals had all but made a mockery of the monument that had stood for so long and for so much. The shameful site featured visual abuse as it was missing the right arm, which had held the grenade, as well as other damages to the rifle and bayonet of the other arm. Pranksters had done other disgraceful things to the structure.

A “Doughboy Committee” was formed by Ray McKinney, who was the commander of the Junior ROTC program at Logan High School in 1983, and that committee garnered over $37,000 to repair the monument. The committee consisted of other veterans such as World War II fighter pilot, Bill Abraham, Clyde Freeman of Chapmanville, Charlie Moore, who was the Commander of the Chapmanville American Legion, and others, like community minded Lila Hinchman of the Logan Woman’s Club.

The fruitful efforts of that committee led to other American war memorials at the Midelburg Island site and the formation and naming of the area as the “War Memorial Park.” The names of all Logan Countians that died as a result of the various wars and conflicts are listed on memorials at this park. The Logan County Commission in 2015 appointed members to a committee to oversee improvements at the memorial park consisting of the addition of names of veterans from the area who served in various conflicts like Iran, Iraq, or other locations.

At a time when immigration is a hot nationwide political topic, some may find it ironic that both the creator of the statue, E.M. Viquesney, and Pete Minotti, who is chiefly responsible for our local treasure, were both either immigrants, or born to immigrants. Viquesney, who lived from 1876 until 1946, copyrighted the statue in 1920 and again in 1934. It reportedly sold for $1000 each, plus the base. According to research reported in the Frederick, Md. Post in 1991, there have been at least 110 of the statues located across America; most of them in small towns.

Although the creator of the statue, which he named “The Spirit of the American Doughboy,” was born in Spencer, Ind. (where his factory also was located) the town did not purchase their own statue until 1927. Its creator began selling them from that location in 1920 and he finished creating them in the late 1930’s. The Indiana town had 2,700 residents in the early 1990’s and is located about 55 miles southwest of Indianapolis.

According to T. Perry Wesley, who was a retired editor of the “Evening World” newspaper of Spencer, Indiana, in 1991 there had been 110 of the Doughboy statues located. Wesley had spent 40 years trying to locate all of the statues. Despite his prolific talents, Wesley reported that the genius creator left no records of his statues and sculptures, which also included a World War II soldier and a Civil War Confederate soldier. It is not known whether Wesley included the Logan Doughboy in his research.

There are various veterans and miners’ memorials in parts of Logan County, including the attractive memorial honoring veterans that is located just off the new road at the town of Man. However, we must always respect the results of an Italian named Minotti, the American Legion members and others who first chose to honor the war efforts of Logan County’s finest in 1928. We must also realize and respect what a Frenchman from Spencer, Ind., had to say about his creations:

“I do not urge the building of War Memorials to perpetuate more WAR but to impress upon American youth the desirability of PEACE.”

Logan County will forever salute the “monumental” efforts which gave us OUR “Doughboy.”

Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.

*This was originally published in the Logan Banner on April 10, 2016 and is republished here with the author’s permission and our special thanks.

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Spiritually reuniting Logan’s pioneer couple

By Dwight Williamson

This was originally published in the Logan Banner on July 30, 2014 and is republished here with the author’s permission and our special thanks.

Anthony Lawson 1788-1849A Logan Banner story which appeared April 23 of this year concerning the historic cemetery located on High Street in Logan featured the grave site of one of the town’s earliest citizens who was brutally murdered by two of her own slaves in 1847 when the small village was known as Lawnsville. Logan County itself had only been created 23 years earlier and its boundaries extended much farther than today.

Ann Lawson’s grave is surrounded by a black iron rod fence which has withstood the test of time just as her family had undoubtedly wished. It is the oldest known grave in the cemetery and its historical significance is invaluable. Among other things, it proves that at least 14 years before the outbreak of the Civil War, some Logan citizens owned slaves. Since the town, which was also called Logan Court House at the time, was sparsely populated it is unlikely there were many other slaves utilized. From all accounts handed down for generations, the black person(s) allegedly responsible for Lawson’s death at her age of sixty-four, were hanged even before there was a courthouse for any possible trial which would not have been likely any how.

Inscribed on her tombstone are these words: “Ann Lawson, wife of Anthony Lawson, of Logan County, Va., who was born in the parish of Longhorsby in the county of Northumberland, England on the 17th day of March A.D. 1783 Murdered on the night of the 17th of December, 1847 by two of her own slaves.”

Mrs. Lawson was the wife of Anthony Lawson and the mother of four sons and one daughter. She was murdered eight day s before Christmas. Her pioneering husband was the first person to open a trading post in the village and his home was located where Logan City Hall currently operates. It has been incorrectly reported for generations that Mr. Lawson died in 1 84 6 while returning by riv er from Philadelphia where he had taken goods, including furs and ginseng, to sell and trade. Lawson developed cholera, a bacterial infection of the small intestines, of which at the time there was no anti-bacterial medications. He is buried in a historic cemetery in the community of Guyandotte in Cabell County near the very river which he had so often navigated.

Originally , it was only believed that Mr. Lawson was probably buried in that area because of the mere fact that he is not located near his wife in the local cemetery which is part of property which he owned. Thanks to the difficult and time consuming work of genealogist and historian, the late Eldean Wellman, this writer is now able to report the names of seventy-two persons buried in what Wellman described as the “Old Logan Cemetery.” Annette Browning, who her husband Don describes as quite an enthusiastic genealogical researcher herself, supplied this writer with a copy of Wellman’s works. It prompted this writer to finding the actual gravesite of Anthony Lawson. It also led to some surprises.

First, as his tombstone so distinctly displays, he succumbed to his illness in 1849, not 1846, as so many historians have previously reported. Lawson would have been 70 years old at the time of his demise and surely was not traveling alone. It is possible that one or more of his four sons — John, Lewis, James or Anthony — could have been traveling with him and was there to at least comfort his ailing soul. His corrected death date also means he was living when his wife was murdered.

Determined to at least spiritually reunite one of Logan County’s historical spouses, I set out one Saturday for Cabell County in hopes of finding his grave. Having gone to college at Marshall, I was familiar with the area. Guyandotte, once a larger community than Huntington was, is not now somewhere one wants to venture to at night. As my wife and I crossed the bridge to the town during day light hours, the first thing noticeable on the left was a cemetery. Beside the cemetery was an old house which turned out to have been  listed on the National Register of Historic Places, June 1973. I hoped to locate the
gravesite at this location.

As a member of “Find a Grave’s” website I located the names of many of those buried in the Guyandotte Cemetery. In addition, there was a picture which had been added by somebody named Phillip Conley. The photo showed the same type of iron fence as was placed at his grave. A quick viewing of the rather small graveyard did not reveal an iron fenced gravesite.

After at least thirty minutes, having traversed every road in the community and even asking locals the whereabouts of cemeteries, I became frustrated. Before leaving I at least wanted to find out the story behind the historical house and look at some of the Revolutionary War gravesites. A plaque near the  house explained the site. The house had been transported by flatboat from Gallipolis, Ohio in 1810. It was named the Historic Madie Carroll House because of an incident that occurred early in the Civil War.

Because of political sympathies toward the Confederacy, Union troops on November 11, 1861 burned nearly every house and structure in Guyandotte. Mary Madie Carroll, operating what was licensed as a “house of private entertainment” by her late husband, Thomas, barricaded herself and children in the brick kitchen of the house and refused to leave. The soldiers spared the house but burned the nearby barn.

I wandered into the cemetery which held much older graves than was the age of the historical house beside it. The tombstones were old, but well preserved, and the cemetery, which was fenced, appeared well kept. The grass had recently been mowed. There were no trees at the site. However, in a far corner of the cemetery, just as I prepared to turn my back and depart, I spotted what appeared to be a bush growing where there should be none. Suddenly, as I walked closer, I realized the black iron fence the weeds had been hiding all along, was indeed protecting the grave of Anthony Lawson. His tombstone was made exactly the same as his wife’s. Inscribed at the top were the dates of 1788 and 1849. Below the dates of his birth and death were these words: “SACRED to the memory of Anthony Lawson Sr. of Logan County, Virginia, who was born at Stanton Co, of Northumberland England on the 31 day of October who on his return home from P”…… The stone has been broken on the lower right side where the last three lines of text used to read “who on his return from Philadelphia departed this life at Guyandotte.”

One can only wonder as to why the keepers of the cemetery and historic house nearby would allow this one grave to become so over grown with vegetation. Is it because Lawson is from Logan and there are those that think his descendants should be doing the work? To my knowledge there are no descendants in Logan County. And the reason I know is as simple as this:

If there were any descendants remaining in Logan County, I do not believe the nearly one-acre cemetery here, which Lawson originally owned and which has held his beloved and murdered wife for 167 years, would be in the condition it is in. The Logan cemetery holds the remains of several Civil War veterans, including at least two members of the infamous Logan Wildcats who fought for the Confederacy, and one’s wife who helped sew the Wildcat Flag that the unit fought under.

At least the Lawson’s of Logan County are back together again…if only in the spiritual sense.

Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.

You may also enjoy this related article: The historic cemetery in Logan

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“Boots” was anything but a normal coal miner

By Dwight Williamson

Dwight Williamson, Logan County MagistrateThousands of men have since about 1900 risked their lives bringing coal from the mountainous hollows of Logan County. There have been hundreds of coal mine related deaths and thousands of injuries, including broken backs and lost limbs — all for the sake of producing coal. Now, with coal mining much safer, and with better laws designed to help protect the coal miners, there appears to be little need for men who desire to continue a local time honored tradition. However, there certainly was a time when coal miners were wanted, and it led to the makeup of what we now know as our beloved Logan County. Italians, Hungarians, Russians, Polish and Negros, mixed in with many other nationalities, have over the years blended together to create our potpourri of a county. Nearly all of our families came to the area many years ago seeking employment in or around the coal mines. The following account is just one of numerous true stories that relate to local times of the past.

William Grimmett, described in a 1939 Logan Banner story as a Negro, was a coal miner who lived at Omar and worked at the No. 4 mine of West Virginia Coal and Coke Corporation. Grimmett, known as “Boots” by his Island Creek friends, was 48 years old and had been working in the mines since 1923, according to the Banner report. While this information would seem about normal for a coal miner in 1939, “Boots” was anything but a normal coal miner. You see, “Boots” Grimmett had no legs and got around by means of two 36-inch crutches. Still, he had made his living through physical labor since he was a young man. In the mines, he loaded coal, run a motor, cleaned track and done other jobs required at the time. Employees at the No. 4 mine marveled at how he could get in and out of the large mine cars at the mine.

“Boots” hailed from Warrior, Alabama, where when he was four years old he lost his legs when a train struck him. “When we got into war in 1917, I was the first man to be examined for service in Warrior and the doctors pronounced me perfect physically, except for the fact that I had my legs off,” he explained. Standing at four feet and four inches tall, Boots said, “I would have been a big man if I hadn’t lost my legs.” His right leg was off above the knee, and his left was off half-way between the foot and the knee. Scoffing at those who would pity him because of his handicap, he said, “People just don’t know how little they use their legs. Just think it over and you will find the only persons who make their living with theirs are dancers.”

In the mines he placed what was left of his left foot on the rail, and with the crutches, he reportedly could walk as fast as any man. When he wanted to get into a mine car, he swung his body in the air by means of his powerful arms, and pulled himself over the edge. He always enjoyed steady work and was considered a good, reliable worker by employers. His favorite hobby was boxing and the great Joe Louis was his favorite. “Boots” said that when the “Brown Bomber” boxed, he would get a ride to Logan and place his money on Louis. “Every time he fights, he has some of my money on him,” he proudly said.

Perhaps a good example of “Boots” Grimmett’s outlook on life can be explained in a favorite story in which “Boots’ passed a one-armed beggar, tin cup in hand, who was standing on the company store porch at Omar. “Boots” dropped a half dollar in the cup and then remarked: “Poor man, it sure must be tough to be crippled.”

Feel free to make up your own moral for the William “Boots” Grimmett story. As for myself, I don’t believe I’ll be complaining about my arthritic knee anymore — thanks to a long gone coal miner named “Boots.”

ANOTHER PIECE OF COAL HISTORY

It has long been thought and even written that the first train load of coal was shipped from Logan County in 1904. The fact is, in the summer of 1903 when the railroad was still in the process of being constructed to the town of Logan, a Stone Branch mine just above Big Creek produced the first coal that was hauled on a work train to the Ohio River. The train was returning from having hauled supplies for workers who were completing the railroad track to Logan. The coal fired train always stopped on its return trip at Big Creek to take on water. According to George E. Chapman, who was a janitor at the Logan courthouse in the late 1930’s, he drove the span of mules which hauled the coal to the railroad cars.

Chapman said that he didn’t believe that Stone Branch Mine was the first to mine commercial coal in the county. He said that mines at both Holden and Mt. Gay had been mining coal and stockpiling it until the railroad reached them, which occurred in 1904. The equipment for the mine at Holden came in over the mountain from Dingess, which had become a busy and significant place because the railroad had already reached there. In fact, before the railroad reached Logan, local merchants ordered goods for their stores and brought them by horse or mules from Dingess to Logan.

“In those days,” said Chapman, “mules were used exclusively for haulage, and oil lamps, burning lard oil, furnished illumination. Day wages at the time was $1.50 and miners were paid $1 per foot but the mine openings had to be driven nine feet wide with a pick, and black powder was for blasting. A wooden track was used instead of iron, according to Chapman’s account.

Jeff Workman, a janitor at the local high school back then, was quoted as saying: “Our tipple wasn’t more than a chute to transfer the coal to the bottom of the hill and a bin that held a small amount of coal. We didn’t have any screens or crushers. We only produced run-of-the mine coal.”

Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.

*Published with permission.

 

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